28 January 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 20 comments

Because of my professional responsibilities, I rarely get the chance to go to archives and libraries and actually do the digging myself. I seldom have time, and it also doesn’t make a lot of economic sense for me to spend a lot of time digging myself when it’s much less expensive to pay someone to do this for me. That way, I continue being able to bill my time at my hourly rate while someone else researches for me at a MUCH lower hourly rate.

However, I had promised Noah Andre Trudeau that I would go to the Ohio Historical Society and get some stuff for him. Andy’s working on what will undoubtedly be the definitive work on Sherman’s March to the Sea, and since he lives in Washington, DC, it’s difficult for him to get to OHS. My office, on the other hand, is just over ten minutes’ driving time from OHS, and I’ve been needing to get there myself to check out their holdings on Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, which is one of the primary reasons why I agreed to do this for Andy. Since I was going anyway, it added absolutely no burden for me to go do this for him.

Susan’s been in Pittsburgh visiting her sister for a couple of days, and I didn’t have much to do in her absence. I cleared my schedule out for today and made a trip to OHS to fulfill my commitment to Andy. What a shame. OHS has been treated miserably by the Ohio General Assembly for years. It’s very much the red-headed step child. Although it relies upon state appropriations for most of its funding, it gets next to nothing, making an easy target for budget cutters in Ohio’s miserable economy. Most of its satellite sites have been closed due to lack of funding, and the Ohio Village, a replica of a Civil War-era town that housed period craftsmen, is never open now. Because nobody in this state seems to give a damn about history, it’s one of the first and primary targets for budget cuts each year, and each year something more gets slashed. Consequently, the library and archives, which have an impressive collection, are only open for part of the day on Wednesday and Thursday and from 9-5 on Saturday. That’s it. It means that it’s terribly inconvenient to go there; the last time I meant to go, I cleared a morning and then discovered that they were only open in the afternoon. The lack of being user-friendly at all is a big part of the reason why it took me much longer than I might otherwise have liked to get Andy’s stuff for him.

I showed up there today, and got Andy’s material right away, fulfilling my obligation. I then turned my attention to Morgan’s 1863 Indiana and Ohio Raid. Given that the most important events of the raid occurred here in Ohio, and that Morgan spent the most time here, it makes sense that there would be lots of good material available. In the course of about three hours–until I ran out of copying money–I found seven or eight excellent primary source materials that nobody else has ever used in writing about Morgan’s Raid. One was a phenomenal letter by a soldier describing the nine days and nights spent in the saddle chasing Morgan that I’ve never seen before. I also found a small published pamphlet by the commander of the 8th Michigan Cavalry about the pursuit of Morgan that I doubt has ever been used by anyone else previously. I’m excited about it. I’m also far from finished. I have at least three more trips to make there before I feel like I’ve gotten everything that there is to be had.

I also wasn’t the smartest today. I was kept up too late by restless dogs who had been alone too much yesterday (I had to go to work and then went to the Blue Jackets game last night), and clearly wasn’t hitting on all eight cylinders this morning when I left. Consequently, it never even occurred to me to take a laptop with me, so I ended up transcribing a bunch of letters by hand, which is a miserable business at best. Because I was using manuscript materials and rare books, I was forced to use a pencil–and a tiny golf-style pencil at that. I hate writing with pencils and have since childhood. Unless they’re razor sharp–which they don’t stay for more than a few seconds–I REALLY don’t like writing with them. Having to transcribe this stuff by hand was NO fun. The next time that I go, I will definitely take a laptop with me so that I can transcribe stuff.

My point in raising all of this is that even with its terribly inconvenient hours and painfully thin staff, the folks at OHS are friendly and very, very helpful. All of this material is there, just begging for somebody to use it. Why the author of the recent book on Morgan’s Raid didn’t avail himself of these materials is really a mystery to me, because he lives in Cincinnati. Aside from this book’s distinct lack of editing or proofreading, it’s painfully short on primary source research materials. The author talked to every family along the raid route he could find, collecting tons of oral history anecdotes that cannot be corroborated (and repeated them as the gospel truth), but overlooked lots of good stuff like the stuff I found today. This fellow invested years into doing what he did. In less than a year of working on this raid, I’ve already turned up substantially more in the way of primary source material than he did in all his years of working on the project. That says to me that he was either plain lazy or he didn’t understand the importance of using only credible sources. Probably it’s some of both. In short, this book embodies most of the things that I really hate in a book, including the total lack of any sort of a bibliography. Why it’s gotten the rave reviews it’s garnered really is a mystery to me, as I think it’s terrible.

That this book is woefully deficient in lots of ways is the exact reason why I decided to tackle Morgan’s Raid–it still lacks the sort of scholarly treatment it deserves, and that 1998 book certainly is NOT that.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 6:17 pm

    I lasted about 100 pages into the Horvitz book and couldn’t take it anymore. Glad it was a library book and not a purchase. I didn’t find it remotely interesting in any way.

  2. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Same here, Drew. I was not impressed by it at all.

    Eric

  3. Buckeyes All
    Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Unhappily, I purchased the Horvitz book hoping that it might be a nice compliment to the good work of Jim Ramage. Big mistake! At least the illustrations are fairly decent. I echo your comments concerning the OHS. They make it very difficult to use their wonderful library. Although Dayton is not that far away, their schedule makes things difficult. Steve.

  4. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 7:11 pm

    Steve,

    Welcome aboard. It’s nice to see a fellow Ohioan. 🙂

    The illustrations seem to be about the ONLY saving grace for that book, if you ask me.

    Eric

  5. Mike Peters
    Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Eric:

    Great find at the OHS!

    Mike

  6. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I thought so. 🙂

    Eric

  7. Mike Peters
    Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Eric wrote the following:

    “I found seven or eight excellent primary source materials that nobody else has ever used in writing about Morgan’s Raid.”

    Eric:

    Please forgive my ignorance here, but how does one know whether a primary account has been used in another’s work?

    Mike

  8. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 10:19 pm

    Mike,

    It means that I’ve seen them cited in footnotes or bibliographies.

    Eric

  9. Mike Peters
    Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Eric:

    I guess I thought that the answer would be a little more complex than that.

    So exhaustive research of the secondary sources, even though you may not use any of the information, is very important, if only for helping to compile a complete bibliography.

    Thanks so much for answering such a basic question in an area where my ignorance definitely shows.

    Mike

  10. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Mike,

    You’re welcome. Sorry that there’s not some magic formula, but short of doing your own digging and then mining the bibliographies and notes of other secondary sources, there really isn’t any other way. That’s why I am usually so eager to follow the trail of secondary sources–I want to see what they relied upon.

    Eric

  11. Buckeyes All
    Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 10:56 pm

    Eric: Thank you for the kind words. Not only am I a fellow Buckeye, I’m a fellow attorney and researcher. Like yourself, I was trained in college to be a historian, but decided on law school instead of graduate school. I gave up my labor and litigation practice years ago to take an appointment as an administrative judge. I very much enjoy reading your very perceptive and well crafted “rants.” I have completed a fairly exhaustive bibliography of Ohio in the Civil War. If you ever need any info re same just let me know. Steve.

  12. Sat 28th Jan 2006 at 11:36 pm

    I would love to have your job, Steve. It would be nice to know what it’s like to have a steady pay check again–the last time I did was in 1994. Are you an ALJ with a state or Federal agency?

    As for your bibliography, you might consider finding a publisher for that. You’d be doing the community of researchers and readers a real service if you did. I have some ideas for you if you’re interested. If you are, please drop me a line by private e-mail, and I will be happy to discuss them with you.

    Eric

  13. Sun 29th Jan 2006 at 11:32 am

    Steve,

    Definitely contact Eric about the prospect of publishing your bibliography. We researchers find those to be wonderful sources – for instance, Sauers’ Gettysburg Bibliography (recently revised and could still be twice as large IMO) is a useful starting point for anyone working the topic. It saves researchers and authors a lot of time. Such things don’t typically “sell” like hotcakes, but they’re indispensible to a niche of us folks. There are many topics (individuals, units, battles, campaigns, etc) I’d love to have exhaustive bibs of, considering my future writings projects.

    Eric is correct about mining the secondary sources – that’s where we all start, basically. You have to absorb every secondary source that exists on your particular subject, if nothing else than to familiarize yourself with what’s been used and what’s out there – plus WHERE those sources are. Then you begin gathering every primary source you can find, especially those never used.

    And it amazes me time after time how many wonderful primary sources, held in public institutions – easily accessible for the most part – are begging to be used but haven’t been touched. As I mentioned to Eric a couple weeks ago, 150 years later some of the best stuff is continually turning up, never used by anyone. 150 years from now, God willing, it’ll still be turning up. The thought of that is what keeps us going, keeps us researching – if there wasn’t a chance of discovering something “new,” we wouldn’t constantly be looking for it – and all that there’d be left to do is re-word what another has already done.

    J.D. Petruzzi

  14. Sun 29th Jan 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Just a quick suggestion to make your life easier — invest $6-10 in a good-quality fine tip mechanical pencil. Makes writing a lot more bearable.

  15. Sun 29th Jan 2006 at 7:26 pm

    Fred,

    I appreciate the suggestion. However, I intend to take a laptop next time. End of problem.

    Eric

  16. Sun 29th Jan 2006 at 8:34 pm

    If we’re assigning praise to the OHS, please allow me to chime in. The last time I was there, I found the staff wonderfully helpful and aware. What meant a lot to me though is that they were equally helpful the first time I went there, back when I was a newly-minted new PhD. Indeed, one of my grad students recently returned with nothing but good things to say about the staff. Trust me, at some places, when I was a lowly grad student, I didn’t always get the sort of assistance I get now. Heck, I’ve even shied away from a couple of projects since then precisely because I can’t stand the thought of returning to two archives where the staff treated me like pond scum.

  17. Sun 29th Jan 2006 at 11:18 pm

    Ken,

    I hear you–I understand exactly what you mean about staffs that are not helpful. I definitely can’t say that about OHS, even with the horrific budget cutting that’s gone on there.

    A friend of mine has been working on a project that takes her to a place culled Tudor Place, in Washington, DC. The archivist there–as if they really need one–acts as if my friend is imposing on her every time she’s there, and she abuses my friend verbally often. Talk about someone impressed with her own self-importance.

    Eric

  18. David Woodbury
    Sat 04th Feb 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Eric wrote: “This fellow invested years into doing what he did. In less than a year of working on this raid, I’ve already turned up substantially more in the way of primary source material than he did in all his years of working on the project. That says to me that he was either plain lazy or he didn’t understand the importance of using only credible sources.”
    ——

    Eric,

    I was also disappointed with Horwitz’s book on Morgan’s Indiana/Ohio Raid, since that’s long been a favorite topic of mine, ever since visiting my wife’s hometown and seeing the Morgan’s Raid marker in the town square. I’ve traced most of the route as far as Buffington Island. As a “present” on my 30th birthday, my wife agreed to a long road trip to walk through the weeds and mosquitos in the Ohio River bottoms there.

    But Horwitz’s book is not without merit, and one can critique it without disparaging him personally as “lazy,” or whatnot. Clearly he’s not a professional historian, and for all the book’s shortcomings, it’s also clear that he worked his ass off on it. No bibliography, as you mention, but he made respectable use of letters, newspaper accounts, and the O.R.

    It’s not the definitive work, and it’s not up to the standards of the best Civil War scholarship, but it is, in fact, the most comprehensive account to-date. It also has lots of useful photos, and good maps. Additionally, he did some unique work that others had not done before, like taking period maps from certain counties and pinpointing state claims of residents who lost property along Morgan’s route.

    All of this is to say that, while we still need definitive scholarship on the Raid, there’s no reason to be so completely dismissive of the work of amateurs who, in their passion for the subject, brought some new and worthwhile material to light.

    Dave Woodbury

  19. Sat 04th Feb 2006 at 5:18 pm

    David,

    I think that what you say probably has some validity.

    Let me put this a different way.

    The author chose to self-publish the book. From what I can tell, it had no editor, its scholarship is lacking, and because there was no peer review process involved in its publication, it enabled a book that is not up to snuff from an academic standpoint to be published.

    Perhaps “lazy” was a strong word. However, I struggled finding a better one for the following reason. The commander of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, which fought at Buffington Island, was Col. August V. Kautz, who later became a major general. Kautz was a pretty prolific guy–his diary is in the manuscripts collection of the Library of Congress, and his unpublished memoirs are part of the collection at USAMHI in Carlisle. The author evidently never consulted either of these sources, because they’re not cited anywhere in the book. My point is that neither the Library of Congress nor USAMHI are exactly considered obscure sources, and you would think that these would be significant sources to mine for anyone doing serious research on the raid. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand why these sources, and others like them, were not consulted.

    Your points about photos and maps are well-taken, and I concede the point.

    I’m pleased to hear that you’re a fan of this particular episode. I hope, therefore, that when the time comes, you will find some merit to what I’m doing.

    Eric

  20. Bernie O'Bryan
    Fri 21st Sep 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Horiwitz’s book may not have been completed ,but he did do what others have not done, match the insurance claims to the story, map the exact route, and collect the stories which are important sources. Everything can be better is more work, more research, better editing. However, his book is an achievement and used sources never before used. Your comments came off like professional jealous, hopefully they are not. He is working on a follow-up book, give him another chance. Even Lew Wallace wasn’t a huge success until “Ben-Hur” was published.

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